Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

Posted in Dissertations, History, Media Archive, Slavery, United States on 2019-10-26 01:11Z by Steven

Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in English Colonial North America and the Early United States Republic

University of California at Berkeley
Spring 2013
183 pages

Aaron B. Wilkinson

A dissertation submitted in partial satisfaction of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in History

This project investigates people of mixed African, European, and sometimes Native American ancestry, commonly referred to as mulattoes, in English colonial North America and the early United States republic. This research deconstructs nascent African American stratification by examining various types of privilege that allowed people of mixed heritage to experience upward social mobility, with a special focus on access to freedom from slavery and servitude in the colonies and states of the southeast Atlantic Coast. Additionally, this work provides a framework for understanding U.S. mixed-race ideologies by following the trajectory of how people of mixed descent and their families viewed themselves and how they were perceived by the broader societies in which they lived. This study contributes to historiographical and contemporary discussions associated with mixed-heritage peoples, ideas of racial mixture, “whiteness,” and African American identity.

Read the entire dissertation here.

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People of Mixed Ancestry in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake: Freedom, Bondage, and the Rise of Hypodescent Ideology

Posted in Articles, History, Law, Media Archive, Native Americans/First Nation, Slavery, United States, Virginia on 2019-02-26 01:58Z by Steven

People of Mixed Ancestry in the Seventeenth-Century Chesapeake: Freedom, Bondage, and the Rise of Hypodescent Ideology

Journal of Social History
Volume 52, Number 3, Spring 2019
pages 593-618
DOI: 10.1093/jsh/shx113

A. B. Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

This article examines the origins of mixed-race ideologies and people of mixed African, European, and Native American ancestry—commonly identified as mulattoes—in the seventeenth-century English colonial Chesapeake and wider Atlantic world. Arguably, for the better part of the century, English colonial societies in the Chesapeake resembled Latin America and other Atlantic island colonies in allowing a relatively flexible social hierarchy, in which certain mixed-heritage people benefitted from their European lineage. Chesapeake authorities began to slowly set their provinces apart from their English colonial counterparts in the 1660s, when they enacted laws to deter intimate intermixture between Europeans and other ethnoracial groups and set policies that punished mixed-heritage children. Colonial officials attempted to use the legal system to restrict people of mixed ancestry, Africans, and Native Americans in bondage. These efforts supported the ideology of hypodescent, where children of mixed lineage are relegated more closely to the position of their socially inferior parentage. However, from the 1660s through the 1680s, these laws were unevenly enforced, and mixture increased with the growth of African slaves imported into the region. While many mulattoes were enslaved during this period, others were able to rely on their European heritage or racial whiteness. This allowed them to gain or maintain freedom for themselves and their families, before Virginia and Maryland institutionalized greater restrictions in the 1690s.

Read or purchase the article here.

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‘Did Somebody Say “Mulatto”?’ Speaking Critically on Mixed Heritage

Posted in Anthropology, Articles, Identity Development/Psychology, Media Archive, Social Science, United States on 2014-11-23 19:51Z by Steven

‘Did Somebody Say “Mulatto”?’ Speaking Critically on Mixed Heritage

The Huffington Post
The Blog

A. B. Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Photograph: Ken Tanabe

One of the main characters in the award-winning film Dear White People is a mixed “black and white” college student who works to make sense of her life and relationships. The movie addresses several thought-provoking subjects, and the storyline around this character raises the question: Should people of mixed heritage have to choose one part of their ancestry over another?

From Nov. 13 to Nov. 15, over 600 people came together at DePaul University in Chicago to explore this question and other issues surrounding ideas of race, perceptions of racial mixture, and the experiences of mixed-heritage people. The goal of the 2014 Critical Mixed Race Studies Conference, titled “Global Mixed Race,” was to “bring together scholars from a variety of disciplines around the world to facilitate a conversation about the transnational, transdisciplinary, and transracial field of Critical Mixed Race Studies.”

As the number of people who identify as “mixed” increases, discussions around various topics concerning people of mixed ancestry are also expanding and challenging our perceptions of race and racism. Both critical mixed-race studies and films like Dear White People accomplish the same goal of furthering conversations regarding race — dialogues that we can engage in with friends, family, and those in our communities at large…

…CMRS Asks: Is There a “Global Mixed Race”?

Activists, artists, and scholars who compose critical mixed-race studies (CMRS) are complicating questions beyond “What are you?” and combating the myth of the “tragic mulatta/o.” In past decades, CMRS has expanded over a number of academic fields spanning several disciplines.

While CMRS has fought over the years to gain legitimacy within scholarly circles, one of its greatest attributes is that the coalition is not made up of solely academics but includes community activists, students, educators, families, visual artists, independent filmmakers, and others interested in the varied experiences of mixed-heritage peoples. Of course, not all these categories are mutually exclusive, as many of the activists, artists, etc., are also scholars.

Laura Kina and Camilla Fojas of DuPaul University organized the third CMRS conference, “Global Mixed Race,” which featured a variety of people telling their own stories, sharing the stories of others, and dissecting theories that surround notions of ethnoracial mixture.* In the opening keynote address, sociologist Rebecca Chiyoko King-O’Riain, co-editor of the book Global Mixed Race, explored the idea of a “mixed experience,” where she discussed the commonalities that people of mixed descent share widely across the globe.

King-O’Riain noted that people of mixed heritage have had to learn how to live and operate within their respective societies, often finding themselves ostracized by individuals within their local communities and battling exclusive national definitions of citizenship. King-O’Riain explained that people of mixed ancestry therefore have often had to skillfully create a flexible hybrid identity, one where they develop a keen ability to operate among several groups…

Read the entire article here.

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Raven-Symoné, Oprah, and What it Means to be (African) American

Posted in Articles, History, Media Archive, United States on 2014-10-15 00:50Z by Steven

Raven-Symoné, Oprah, and What it Means to be (African) American

The Huffington Post
Black Voices

A. B. Wilkinson, Assistant Professor of History
University of Nevada, Las Vegas

Last week entertainer Raven-SymonĂ© appeared on Oprah: Where Are They Now? and proudly stated that she was in “an amazing, happy relationship” with a woman, yet what she followed up with turned out to be more surprising for some. After telling Oprah that she did not want to be labeled “gay” yet simply as “a human who loves humans,” Raven continued: “I’m tired of being labeled. I’m an American. I’m not an African American; I’m an American.”

As Oprah shook her head, she responded, “Oh girl, don’t set up the Twitter on fire.” She then threw up her hands and yelled jokingly, “Stop, stop, stop the tape right now!” Twitter and the blogosphere certainly did blow up in response to Raven’s remarks, which many felt were blasphemous, not regarding her sexual orientation, but because she rejected being identified as African American.

Everyone has the right to identify as they please, and if she wants to, Raven-SymonĂ© can certainly refuse labels surrounding her sexuality and ethnoracial background. However, she didn’t dodge all labels as rigorously as she claimed, for Raven still enthusiastically and without hesitation embraced the national label of “American.”

What might be more problematic is that Raven and Oprah both came to agreement on the point that “America” is supposed to be a “melting pot.” While their version of the “melting pot” may be that everyone is equally included in the melding of cultures that make up the United States, this has not been the case in the past and is still not the case today. (If we truly considered every culture as equal contributors to the U.S. “melting pot” then why in 2014 do we still have a sports team called Redskins and continue to celebrate Columbus Day as a national holiday?)

Oprah and Raven-SymonĂ© are two models of excellence who deserve recognition for their achievements in media, entertainment, and life. Still, their recent conversation concerning ethnoracial identity and what it means to be “American” may have been misdirected in places and requires further discussion. These revealing comments provide us with a place for further conversation as we reflect on our views concerning the important topics of race, culture, and identity…

…While Raven never expected her personal comments would “spark such emotion in people,” those claiming mixed descent need to understand that speaking openly about their blended heritage can still be controversial, especially when they are perceived to be favoring their mixture over an identity of color.

When Raven-SymonĂ© said, “I have lots of things running through my veins” she was being honest about her ancestry further back on her family tree. Still, some people of mixed heritage have used statements like these to distance themselves from stigmas associated with “blackness.”…

Read the entire article here.

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Revising Freedom: Law, Literature, & the Racial Imaginary

Posted in History, Live Events, Media Archive, Slavery, Social Science, United States on 2013-03-29 04:12Z by Steven

Revising Freedom: Law, Literature, & the Racial Imaginary

Center for Race & Gender
University of California, Berkeley
691 Barrows
2013-03-21, 16:00-17:30 PDT (Local Time)

“Blurring the Lines of Race and Freedom: Mulattoes in the Early-Nineteenth-Century United States”
A. B. Wilkinson, History

This presentation will combine elements from the last two chapters of my current dissertation, which generally focuses on the lives of mulattoes (people of mixed African, European, and sometimes Native American descent) in English colonial North America and the early United States Republic.  This section of my work reveals how the rights of a number of mulattoes were being retracted in the first decades of the nineteenth century at the state level, even as concessions were still extended to certain people of mixed heritage both in slavery and in freedom at more local levels.  Mulattoes successfully used legislative petitions at the county and state levels in order to maneuver around increasing restrictions set in motion by the explosion of cotton production and plantation slavery in the early nineteenth century.  This included larger constraints placed on slaves and free people of color, many of whom were mulattoes.  As politicians at the state level constricted access to legal manumission, those of mixed-heritage with strong connections to European American heritage and patronage gained freedom more easily than people of full African heredity.  These slaves experienced varying degrees of mulatto privilege.  This mulatto or light-skinned privilege also existed among free people of color, who sometimes claimed access to rights as they established themselves within their own communities.  Even as widespread rights were diminishing, mulattoes retained a general advantage over their fully African brethren in terms of emancipation and other benefits.

The second section finishes with a discussion of the deteriorating rights of free people of color, many of whom were mulattoes, up through the first three decades of the nineteenth century.  The labor requirements of the cotton plantation economy required that slaves be increasingly kept in bondage and that free people of color be neutralized as a possible threat to the labor system. Elites in the U.S. Southeast had long associated free people of mixed ancestry with their African lineage, and though many mulattoes did not share this view, this characterization increasingly informed restrictive legal statutes at the state level.  As the rights of free people of color were stripped away, mulattoes were disproportionately affected because they made up a high segment of the free population of African descent.  In this manner, mulattoes were routinely pushed towards only being identified by their African ancestry.  Arguably, this early nineteenth century process moves U.S. mixed-race ideology to a more strict line of hypodescent that will later be solidified under the one-drop rule.

“Why Our Post-Race Society Still Has A Race Problem: How Race and Freedom Go Hand-in-Hand”
Michael McGee, African American Studies

Since the late 19th century, freedom for African Americans has been directly associated with resolving what has been commonly regarded as the race problem.  In this way, race has functioned as the primary barrier to freedom as equality, the guarantee and protection full citizenship rights, and complete participation in American rights, duties, and privileges.  Between the late 19th and mid-20th centuries, the race problem became metonymical for race itself, establishing an antithetical relationship between race and freedom.  This presentation considers the different positions taken by leading African American writers during this time period to arrive at an understanding of freedom in America that resolves the race problem.  Reading several writers such as ranging from W.E.B. DuBois to Ralph Ellison, and positions on race ranging from impediment to gift to the basis for a separate nation, this presentation reassesses exactly how and for whom race is a problem, particularly in relation to the different ways in which freedom is imagined.  Through this reevaluation of freedom and the race problem, this presentation argues that race is an integral part of freedom in America so much so that freedom itself is in jeopardy when America makes claims to be post-race.

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